The best man for the job

Chad Pennington outplayed Tom Brady in one of the closest games the New England Patriots have seen so far this season. Barely, and neither played a stellar game in the face of awful weather conditions, but Pennington’s play did edge that of Brady’s, even if the Pats did come away with another win.

Pennington played well in coming off the bench to replace his protégé, Kellen Clemens, who was injured on his very first throw of the game (which resulted in an interception that was returned for a touchdown).

Are you among the hordes of Jets’ “fans” that are convinced that Pennington does not give this team their best chance to win? In this game, against the best team in football, you saw him have to come off the practice team to replace the young quarterback who had been handed his starting job two months ago, and still show accuracy and mental sharpness after not starting for half the season. You saw Pennington deal with a winter storm, a hostile, ice-throwing Patriots’ crowd, an absolutely porous offensive line, dropped passes and touchdown throws that simply should not happen at the professional skill level, and even being benched for plays and series and having to come back out and play cold, and still manage to keep his team very much in the game and driving down the field.

You could complain that he didn’t throw enough deep passes, but if you saw the game, you probably realized that Brady couldn’t either and that the only place where New England’s secondary was double-covering (and sometimes even triple-covering) the Jets’ receivers was ten yards off the line of scrimmage and beyond. Besides, whenever the Jets did throw long passes, the receivers couldn’t get a grip on the ball. And even when Pennington finally delivered a strike for a touchdown, a nameless, blameless receiver (we’ll call him Justin McCareins) couldn’t bring it in without first showing off his trademark “bobble-bobble-step” move (which he also showcased with his “bobble-bobble-drop” move, as well as the “hit me in the chest with a pass and I’ll still drop it” move). The ball couldn’t have been thrown any better or placed any more accurately, and if McCareins catches that ball, the Jets are looking at just a three-point deficit late in the game against an undefeated team that shouldn’t even be in the same league as the Jets at this point.  Chris Baker was also guilty of drops and coughed up a key fumble after a reception.

Regardless of all factors, Pennington played his typical heart-out game, and he has given his right arm to this team — literally — in order to give them a chance to win every single time he steps onto the field with them, regardless of the opponent, weather, or other circumstances. The steady combination of Pennington, a strong special teams outing (headlined by a blocked punt and return for a touchdown by David Bowens, and the incomparable play of Leon Washington), and a stiff defensive effort gave the Patriots almost as much as they could handle today. Just imagine how this game could have ended up if the Jets could have held onto the ball and made a few key blocks during offensive drives, to protect their quarterback or to spring a running back or receiver into the clear.

Do you still believe that Clemens is the best guy for the job? If so, you need to think again; and you’ll have to think even harder next season if Pennington moves on to join a team that actually appreciates what he brings to the game of football.

Update: today’s New York Times has an excellent story by Greg Bishop about this game.


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